By Chelsea Place, Pentagram Staff WriterJanuary 31, 2012
Thought to be unfit as pilots, African-Americans for the longest time were not recognized as being able to fly, until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration announced that African-Americans would be trained as pilots in the Army Air Corps in Oct. 1940.
Prior to this announcement, African-Americans were "denied military leadership roles and skilled training because many thought they lacked qualifications for combat duty," according to the National Park Service website on American Visionaries Tuskegee Airmen.
Formed Jan. 16, 1941, the War Department announced the creation of the African-American pursuit squadron, according to the Tuskegee Airmen chronology by Daniel L. Haulman of the Air Force Historical Research Agency. This squadron would train where many African-American civilian pilots trained, at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala.
Activated in March 1941, the 99th pursuit squadron was equipped with Curtiss P-40s and later Bell P-39s, according to the Air Force Historical Studies Office (AFHSO) factsheet by Christopher Koontz, historian. The squadron was joined by the 100th, 301st and 302nd squadrons in Feb. 1944 to make up the 332nd fighter group.
Eventually, the unit converted to Republic P-47s and Northern American P-51s until the end of the war.
The Tuskegee Airmen "escorted Fifteenth Air Force bombers and made attacks on ground targets from its bases in Italy," according to the AFHSO website. "The Tuskegee Airmen, as a whole, earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for an escort mission to Berlin on 24 March 1945."
"The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II," according to the NPS website. "The Tuskegee Airmen's achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military."
Sponsored by the U.S. government, female photographer Toni Frissell was sent to Europe to document the war conditions. Frissell spent March of 1945 taking photographs of the Tuskegee Airmen and may have been the only professional photographer to document the inner workings of the African-American unit, as stated on the National Park Service website.
All the links in this article can be found in the Related Links section to the right. Sources and further reading can be found in the Tuskegee Airmen factsheet: www.afhso.af.mil/topics/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=15243.